Yoon-Ji Park has always had a knack for hospitality. She grew up in the South Korean countryside, just outside of Seoul, where she helped her mum with her fishing business.
Guests would pay to stay at their property, fish and have their daily catch prepared in a restaurant. "I grew up in that restaurant, taking berries from the mountain, watching the cooking, seeing the fish killed in front of me," she tells SBS Food.
"My mum was in the big kitchen and I was in the house where we sold snacks and when I was six or seven, I ran that. I loved it!"
But when she came to Melbourne as a teenager, hospitality was not part of her plans. Over a few years, she studied law, accounting and psychology, and then went travelling overseas. "At that point, I had a big spiritual awakening. I realised what I needed to do," she says.
"I had a big spiritual awakening. I realised what I needed to do."
She returned to Melbourne and opened Dari Korean Cafe & Bar in May. Translating to "bridge" in Korean, Dari connects Korean street food with Melbourne cafe culture.
During the day, the menu revolves around sandwiches with the Idol sandwich as the drawcard. "Yesterday, four high-school girls came in to just try it. People are excited about it," says Park.
It was originally created in a TV network cafeteria for hungry K-pop idols before they appeared on the music show Inkigayo, and has since become a hit on social media and in cafes.
Singer Seungri claims that some idols would exchange phone numbers by slipping them in sandwich wrappers. The sandwich is made with four slices of white bread, egg and potato salad, strawberry jam and slaw.
K-pop stars swear by the unusual flavour combination and many fans have shared their own recipes online.
"That mix of sweet and savoury just works," says Park.
At Dari, she uses white bread that she covers in a creamy potato and egg salad to create the first layer. Then comes another slice of bread and strawberry jam: "not expensive jam, it needs to be the good old stuff from the jar".
She adds another slice of bread to keep the jam separated from the salad. After that she spoons on what she calls 'Mexican salad' (cabbage, apple, ham, surimi, egg, Sriracha, mayo and sweet ketchup).
"I don't think other idol sandwiches use this. It's a very 80s Korean salad, I'm not sure if it really came from Mexico, but that's how we call it,” she explains.
She adds the final slice of bread to make a massive triple-decker sandwich.
If you prefer more traditional flavour combinations, try the bulgogi bun that's based on her mum's recipe. Or go for the egg bbang, a beer batter muffin with a whole egg inside - one of South Korea's most popular street food.
You could get your regular coffee order at Dari, but you'd be missing out. Park mills grains and makes infusions in house, like a sweet potato and walnut latte, a malted rice drink and a job's-tears soy latte. The latter, made with a Southeast Asian grain, has a rich, nutty taste.
In the evening, sandwiches are replaced by savoury pancakes and larger dishes like soy sauce ribs. Cocktails incorporate Korean elements like sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch), sikhye (sweet rice drink) and Hong Cho (a fruity vinegar drink that Park compares to kombucha).
For dessert, Park recommends the injeolmi toast. The sandwich is filled with sweet rice cake and covered in condensed milk, soy powder, honey and chopped almonds.
27 – 29 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
Tue – Wed 10am–3pm | Thu – Sat 10am–3pm and 5:30–10pm | Sun 10am – 2pm
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